[Published in Mother India.]
BRAHMACHARYA AND TAPAS
It is now universally recognised in the emerging thought in economics, management and development studies that the quality of “Human Resources” and the creative and innovative potentialities of the human work-force are the most important factors determining the prosperity of a society. Much research work is being done on creativity and innovation, but most of this research is focused exclusively on the pragmatic and short-term results like productivity or efficiency, without any long-term vision. No attempt is made to explore the deep foundations and source of the creative energies of Man. Here comes the utility of the Indian ideal of Brahmacharya which can provide a deeper, holistic and long-term vision for managing human creative energies.
The Power of Brahmacharya
According to the Indian vision of life, all energies in the individual, Nature and the Universe are manifestations of the creative Energy or Shakti of the Spirit, the One Self in all. Man is a microcosm of the macrocosm; whatever principles, laws and energies operate in the cosmos are also present in Man. All the creative energies in Man, on every level of his being-physical, vital, mental and spiritual-are derived from the corresponding planes, of the cosmic energies of the divine Shakti. There are various centres of energy in Man through which the individual human being is linked dynamically to the cosmic energy. In the philosophy of the Tantra, that great, bold, fascinating and synthetic spiritual culture of ancient India, this creative Energy of the divine Being is made the central object of worship, adoration and seeking. Right understanding and application of the methods, laws and processes of the Shakti, is considered as the means for all mundane and spiritual success, wealth, enjoyment, liberation and beatitude. To progressively increase the capacity of the human system to open, receive, store, conserve and radiate the universal creative Energy, until it becomes a perfect instrument of the divine Shakti, at once a perfect receiver, and transmitter of the divine Light, Intelligence and Energy of the Supreme and Universal Self-an individual Motor in conscious union with the cosmic Dynamo-is the process and aim of the Tantric Sadhana. One of the basic principles of this Indian system of human energy management is the concept and practice of Brahmacharya. (1) This ancient Indian practice of Brahmacharya is normally misunderstood as celibacy. But the primary aim of the practice of Brahmacharya is not a mere sexual abstinence for the sake of moral purity but the conservation and transformation of the biological and vital energy stored in the human being into pure intellectual and spiritual energy. The practice of Brahmacharya is the secret behind the extraordinary cultural achievements of ancient India in the field of religion, spirituality, philosophy, literature, art and architecture. Let us briefly examines the principles behind this Indian practice.
This is the philosophy behind the Indian theory of Brahmacharya. The application depends on the right understanding of the physiological structure of the human receptacle of energy. According to Sri Aurobindo, all human energy has a physical basis and foundation, though the source of all energy is spiritual. This physical basis of human energy exists in the human body as the vital-sexual fluid at the bottom of the spine. This fluid state of energy (retas) potentially contains hidden within it all the other higher luminous states of energy (tejas) in the form of heat, light and electricity. When this vital-sexual fluid is not wasted and allowed to run down in uncontrolled indulgence of vital passions but conserved and directed upwards by appropriate discipline, it progressively gets transformed into higher states of energy -first it becomes heat, tapas, stimulating the whole system with health, strength, energy and well-being; in the second stage, it becomes light, tejas, which is the source of all knowledge; in the third stage it becomes electricity, vidyut, which energises and strengthens the nerves and is the source of all vital vigour and dynamism that gives the individual the capacity for successful and forceful action. Finally when the discipline is pursued further to the last stage of transformation the energy becomes ojas and informs the brain with that “primal energy which proceeds from ether” and “which is the most refined form of matter and nearest to the spirit.”(2) This ojas is the source of “spiritual force… by which a man attains to spiritual knowledge, spiritual love and faith and spiritual strength.” (3)
For those who like to play with modem scientific terminology, we may say Brahmacharya is the transformation of the “bio-plasmic” energy in the body from the fluidic state of jala to the thermodynamic energy of tapas, from the thermodynamic to the electromagnetic energy of light and electricity, tejas and vidyut, and finally from the electromagnetic to the nuclear or subatomic energy of ojas. While the modem scientific terminology refers only to the different states of material energy, the Sanskrit terminology denotes primarily the different states or stages of transformation of the vital energy in the body. But there may probably be some correspondence between them; the various states of material energy discovered by modern physics could be the material expression of the corresponding states of vital energy.
The practical discipline of Brahmacharya consists of preventing all form of wastage and downward gravitation of the vital energy and directing it upwards by giving it a higher orientation. All forms of uncontrolled indulgence of vital desires and passion, especially sexual passion, in thought, feeling and act wastes the vital energy. On the other hand all forms of conscious self-control preserves and increases energy.
We must note here that what is enjoined here is not a complete abstinence from sex for all but a balanced control over all vital passions-especially of course the sexual impulse-which wastes the vital energy, called in Indian yoga Prana, which is the source of all creative dynamism and forceful action in every level of the individual. We would also like to repeat here that this control is insisted upon not for any moral reasons but for the conservation of the vital energy of human beings and transforming it into a higher form of energy, dynamism and creative force. The special emphasis on control of the sexual impulse is primarily for two reasons: first, it is considered as the source of all energies in the human body and second, it is the strongest and the most intense among vital passions, with the highest build-up of vital energy in the urge and maximum wastage of energy in the act. Therefore when the sexual energy is conserved and transformed it can become a great and potent force for the higher evolution of human beings.
But it is not enough to increase the fund of vital energy; it has to be directed upwards by giving it a higher orientation. The average man either wastes his vital energy in the satisfaction of his gross material desires like food and sex or else uses it to satisfy his higher vital ambition for power and success. But in neither case is there Brahmacharya. For the progressive transformation of energy envisaged in Brahmacharya, the increased fund of energy created by the discipline of Brahmacharya has to be turned toward the realisation of some higher mental, moral or spiritual aim and creatively released in some intellectual, artistic, ethical or spiritual pursuits. This brings us to the other Indian concept related to human energy management: Tapas.
The Fire of Tapas
The basic principle behind all the Yogic practices for human energy conservation and transformation is summed up in the profound Sanskrit word Tapas. Here we have another Indian Yogic term which like the earlier word Brahmacharya is loosely translated as penance or austerity. But Tapas is something much more positive than mere penance. The Indian scriptures declare that the divine Being created this world by Tapas; it is also said that nothing is impossible for a man who is capable of right Tapas. What exactly is this Tapas? Here again Sri Aurobindo brings out the true meaning of the word with his unerring Yogic insight:
Tapas is the energising conscious power of cosmic being by which the world is created, maintained and governed; it includes all concepts of Force, Will, Energy, Power, everything dynamic and dynamising.
Tapasya is the concentration of the will to get the results of Sadhana and to conquer the lower nature.
When the will and energy are concentrated and used to control the mind, vital and physical and change them or to bring down the higher consciousness or for any other Yogic purpose or high purpose, that is called Tapasya.(4)
Thus Tapas is the practical aspect of the Indian theory of Brahmacharya. Tapasya means energisation of consciousness, focused and disciplined turning of the creative energies of human consciousness towards higher aims and purposes, especially for a moral and spiritual aim. Though the word Tapas is used in Indian tradition especially to denote moral and spiritual askesis, in a general sense all concentrated application of human energy-physical, vital, mental or spiritual-directed towards the realisation of some specific aim is Tapas. Success in any human endeavour requires Tapas.
Thus Tapas involves Concentration and Self-control, two great qualities which are constantly and repeatedly insisted upon in the Indian spiritual tradition and which are indispensable for the realisation of the aims of Brahmacharya. For it is only by a systematic and conscious discipline, concentration and control that the higher energies are conserved and cultivated and the lower energies transformed by directing them to higher aims.
But Tapas can be effective only when the method and aim of the discipline are in harmony with the natural temperament, swadharma, of the individual and the group. Only when the human energies get interested in the discipline and the process of Tapas, it become a spontaneous and joyful self-expression of the creative potentialities of the human being leading to harmonious growth. This is the reason why Indian culture never imposed the same and uniform discipline on all irrespective of their natural temperament.
The Collective Dimension
Whatever we have discussed above applies to the development of not only the individual but also the collectivity. If the collective aim set before us is only an endless satisfaction in the physical-vital desires of life, Artha and Kama, then the Indian approach becomes redundant. But this is against Nature’s law and intention. Man has to evolve beyond his Artha and Kama motives to the higher level of Dharma for his very survival; First, he has to fulfil his humanity through the path of dharma and then ascend beyond Dharma towards his super-human spiritual destiny, Moksha. For this higher evolution he has to turn his creative energies towards the realisation of these higher aims and values of Dharma and Moksha. This requires a much higher and qualitatively superior intellectual, moral and spiritual force than the one needed for progress in the Artha and Kama dimensions of life. These higher creative energies have to be developed, released and made consciously active in the individual and collective life of. humanity. This means some form of collective Tapas with the priority attention focused on the development of the mental, moral, aesthetic and spiritual dimension of the individual and the group.
1. SABCL, Vol. 3, pp. 331-335.
2. Ibid., p. 335.
4. Glossary of Terms in Sri Aurobindo’s Writings, Sri Aurobindo Ashram, p. 164.